Light seeped out from under the door again. Marta rested her chin on the roll of paper towels that sat on top of her cart. For two years she had cleaned these rooms, late at night when everyone else was gone, and often that light was on. It still made her uneasy. She had finished the other rooms, the sitting area for people who would wait hours for a five minute meeting, the administrative offices with desks that looked like they were made out of stacks of paper. Now all that stood between her and the end of her shift was on the other side of this door.
She listened to hear if he was on the telephone. He wasn't. Turning the handle with one hand while tapping her knuckles with the other, she pushed open the door to the Oval Office.
The president was hunched over, his elbows on the desk, hands on either cheek pushing the skin up to his ears. He looked over to where she had stopped at the threshold. He smiled and gestured for her to come in with a sweep of a long arm. Marta smiled back with a nod as she pushed the door open wide, bracing it with her leg as she pulled in the cart. She guided the
door shut so it didn't make a sound and got to work. Not much needed to be done in here. It was mostly for show.
The president sighed and leaned back in his chair, his chin pointed at the ceiling. Marta dusted the rearing horse statue. Recently, he'd been in here late more often. He had another desk, one tucked away where he could be as messy as he wanted, not worrying about "company coming" and having to look neat. Still, sometimes he liked to be in here to read, to think. It made sense to Marta. Clutter in your house, clutter in your mind. Same for your desk. She moved on to the windowsills. I'll dust everything tonight, she thought, tomorrow night, when he's gone, I'll vacuum.
If he's gone. She watched the news every night at 6:30 before she came to work. Things weren't easy. Old allies acting like enemies, riots blossoming like ink drops in water. More than once she had been in here when someone entered with urgent news for the president. They would look at her sideways like she was some double agent, sent here to fluff sofa pillows and steal national security codes. The president would smile at her and say, "Thank you, Marta." She would nod at him and silently pull her cart out of the room. But that wasn't the case tonight. The president was writing notes in the margins of what had to be a stack of 50 pages when Marta walked behind the desk to empty the waste bin. For now it was just the two of them working, side by side.